Mailer Preface, When Sent as Mail.

This document is a web document, one of today's premier methods of communication. It probably will not display on your mailer, demonstrating the limits of seemingly refined but actually inflexible software used on every desk. As NASS considers using a 32-bit operating system, we might also ask if NASS wants an open system in several senses or just in a couple senses? You can view the attached html mail locally at

http://ohio/linux-alternative ,

equivalently ,

or remotely at

I have a great deal to say in this http-mail about switching to a 32-bit operating system, welcoming you to read it.

    32-Bit Operating System? Consider Alternatives.    

This past summer I visited Dr. Nozawa at Wake Forest University. He introduced me to a Professor from Netherlands who made carticoid graphics, experimented on monkeys, and advanced their computer systems. Unsurprisingly, this Linux expert came from Europe, where he got the Linux expertise needed for much of his scientific work and computer administration. Perhaps one of the unixes for PC: Linux, Berkeley Systems Design (BSD), or Sun's Solaris for PC, offers a 32-bit solution for NASS. Or up the ante, occasionally buy 64-bit desktops and use 64-bit Linux.

In Survey Research Branch, we have run a 32-bit operating system, Linux, an international standard unix, for a few years now. It runs seemlessly with our Sun computers, so the user may not immediately know zher [not misspelled] home directory, location of disk drive for zher current directory, or location of software. Indeed, all three may reside on separate computers, the software links may automatically toggle according to which computers currently run, and this works identically and transparently whether logging into a PC Linux computer or a Sun computer. Hopefully, a decision ``to adopt a 32-bit client (workstation) as soon as possible'' will look for number-crunching speed; flexibility of programming and of getting off-the-shelf software; speed and propriety of software support answers; robustness to human and computer errors; interoperability with the world's computers. A rush just for the immediate speed of an operating system at hand could become a long term accident.

*Is There any Mainstream Support for Linux?
DEC has a team of about five which ported and maintain Linux on the DEC Alpha. Linux also runs on the Sun sparc chips, with compatibility for Sun Solaris binaries; Linux runs on MIPS R[3,4]x00; Linux runs on Fujitsu AP/1000+ . Apple has a team of about seven who ported and maintain Linux on the PowerPC and the PowerMAC. The Apple port of Linux took but about 3 months, relying on a micro-kernel developed at Carnegie-Mellon. This microkernel also forms the foundation of MIT's HURD Unix kernel, expected by many in the late eighties and today to become the operating system of the future. With an alpha release last year, HURD will work like Linux at the user level; indeed, its originator, Richard Stallman at MIT, uses the Debian Linux version today. Hewlett-Packard recently started porting Linux to its computers. Thus, Linux has a larger development team than any operating system manufacturer could afford. That team includes many of the major computer manufacturers themselves.

Billionaire Ray Norda, founder of Novell, created the Linux distribution Caldera, taking with him many key Novell personnel, then spinning into the Linux community software which implements printing, filesystems, and most of what Novell accomplishes.

The accounting firm Ernst and Young has their computer services provider IBM support Linux. Most people and companies report solutions to their Linux problems in a few hours, and repairs to security problems in two days, which automatic upgrading then accounts for. I got a more clear response on subnetworking than I had seen in any book, Linux or non-Linux, from company which was largely the backbone of the East Coast in 1992, PSI.

*Who Uses Linux?
Virginia Power has had a Linux computer running where they need robustness, in a swamp, where one Linux computer has run without reboot for 600 days. Parts of NASA make Linux the operating system of preference. Indeed, Donald Becker of NASA writes many of the video drivers for Linux. Mercedes-Benz uses Linux for spreadsheets, LaTeXword processing (LaTeXproduces type-set pages), software development, print-spooling, web service, and serving X-windows. Many internet service providers (ISPs) run their whole operation on Linux. For example, Erols serves a hundred thousand Mac, Microsoft and Unix customers, providing mail, news, web and ppp. Roger's Cable, with half the Canadian market, provides cable internet access through Linux computers, even using them as routers and gateways. Other Linux users include Sony WorldWide Networks, Yahoo, Boeing, Byte Magazine, National Public Radio, Sallie Mae, .... The significance of Linux can be seen at a 100 Gigabyte ftp archive site like Sunsite, which, when it must limit the number of users, comments on but one operating system, Linux, and it directs all requests for Linux files to alternate worldwide mirrors. Southwest Airlines implemented a statistical analysis system on Linux. The German Sixt Rent-a-Car uses 230 Linux computers throughout Germany.

The Italian autonomous Province of Bolzano runs its transportation system on Linux from top to bottom. They run everything from the salary payments to having 40 Linux computers inside rail stations, 40 inside train station ticket windows, 10 inside bus depots, and 400 to be inside buses synchronized to within 0.1 seconds of each other and interacting with global positioning systems, all averaging over 100 days uptime. The world now has roughly 8 million Linux installations.

*Is Linux Robust?
With little argument, Linux is the most robust operating system on the PC, more robust than Microsoft's systems, more robust than OS/2, more robust than Sun Solaris for the PC, about as robust as the UC Berkeley BSD Unix. This was affirmed by the Italian Province of Bolzano, which sought a robust operating system, so tested many PC operating systems. Some robustness follows the strong collaboration between the different operating systems, Linux, Berkeley BSD, HURD, and some collaboration with the Unix community at large. For example, 25 full time employees at the X Consortium continue to develop X-windows for all the unixes. Software developed on one unix operating system is usually developed to easily compile and work on other unix operating systems. As already mentioned, Linux has computers un-rebooted for 2 years and ISPs serving a hundred thousand customers. Los Alamos National Laboratory runs Linux for weeks on end using a computer with 16 processors, 5 ethernet interfaces, 50 Gigabytes of disk space, and 2 Gigabytes of memory. Linux is an international version of Unix, the agreement of people on six continents rather than one continent or one city. It runs on most viable computer chips of the world. It is the progeny of 26 years of Unix development.

On the other hand, many Linux users like to use the latest libraries and run the latest Linux kernel, which changes every few days. While these Beta-grade advances provide cutting edge capabilities and compatibilities with the latest hardware, they can also lead to software incompatibilities and miscommunication with hardware.

Linux can check all its software packages (eight hundred in Debian Linux) with the software source for corruption. I nightly run another program, tripwire, to detect any inadvertent changes to any file. And Linux can detect a computer lock, rebooting itself. Unix has run robust windowing systems since 1985. At home, I often run 4 simultaneous Netscape 4.0 programs, ftp, 70 simultaneous processes, and I nightly mirror 800 megabytes over a 33.6 modem. Walnut creek,, runs a PC Unix, often with 480 ftp/http simultaneous users and has a higher user limit than any commercial operating system I have seen, 1500 simultaneous users. In NASS Fairfax office, when the LAN goes down, people like Jim Davies have occasionally asked Unix users what they were doing, presuming that the ethernet lines shared by Novell and Unix must simultaneously break. But over five years, the Unix network has stopped twice, and then only because a hub itself had stopped. Novell developers commented that Linux stability is understandable since it has a million Beta testers, who themselves often solve developers' problems.

*Linux/Unix is Flexible and Interoperable.
One can quickly program a computer solution in Unix rather than purchasing a solution. For example, in the Microsoft arena NASS purchased Reachout software which disallows multiple-users, but in the Unix arena one would use already-installed remote-login software and it would allow multiple-users. Indeed, Linux/Unix would allow simultaneous logins to one computer through each of several attached ethernet cards, through each of several attached modems and through each of several computers attached by serial connection.

One alternative to pure Unix is Microsoft's NT, of which Bill Gates says ``NT is Unix.'' While NT gets better and is a viable expensive alternative to Unix, to efficiently handle NT one must be very well trained. Microsoft personnel went on site to help Digex put in their ``web farm''. In Maryland, in 35,000 square feet, Digex has over 500 NT servers serving web pages only. After calling Digex at (301) 847-5000, I understand they give quick attention to these servers. When their NT servers hang, they quickly reboot them, though they are adding software to automatically reboot these NT computers twice a day. Most internet service providers run Unix, using not five-hundred computers but three computers, which flexibly handle not just web pages but also high volume internet news and mail.

Flexibility extends to filesystems on disk or diskette as Linux handles 29 filesystem formats, including AIX, XENIX, BSDI, OS/2 HPFS, DOS 12-bit FAT, DOS 16-bit, NTFS, Novell Netware, and CP/M. Linux can also run RAID filesystems, boot a diskless computer over a network, work with a thermometer and fan tachometer inside the computer, run Frame Relay, tunnel one network protocol within another, and many Linux users use IP Masquerading so several users can use one IP address. Linux can simultaneously move Novell's IPX protocol, Apple's Appletalk and Localtalk protocols, Microsoft SMB protocol, and TCP/IP protocol packets over wire or by radio waves, so Linux can print, serve/view files, ...with other operating systems.

In Unix, when at Ag Census, if you wish to print something on a Fairfax computer, which does not recognize the Census printers, you need merely enter ``rlpr a-fairfax-unix-computer census-filename'' or use a pipe. When you want to help someone in Fairfax from Ag Census with SAS, you could start the decade-old command ``xtv'' on which both distant parties enter SAS commands and view SAS's pop-up windows.

Even though Unix has had windows since 1985, new programs are and probably always will be more easily written for the command-line/batch-mode. These command line tools provide enormous flexibility. For example, by using another tool's output as input, virtually all Unix tools will accept input through either arguments or as piped input. For example, when we run our Perry-Burt re-sampling, we generate 3,194 SAS log files. These are far too many for any windows user-friendly approaches, so we collect the needed information from all the directories with the simple one liner,

find -type f |egrep 'WARN|ERROR|NOTE'

then consider culling them with more Unix tools. Additionally, the flexible command-line command usually offers more effective options than an equivalent windows command forced to the constraints of graphics and user-friendliness. The teamwork between the Unix tools amounts to one super-tool whose options are any of the thousands of Unix regular-tools and their regular-options.

Since Linux/Unix runs peer-to-peer, any computer can serve any other computer and many other computers over modem/ethernet without additional software. In NASS Fairfax office, this transparency presents the same setup whether logging in from Linux running on an Intel chip or from an Sun console. After login, whatever be the Unix computer initially used, the user sits in the same home directory, usually on a Sun disk drive. Then an executed command may use a second Sun's processor to run SAS served from a third Unix computer. If someone turns off the third Unix computer, the automount daemon automatically relinks for SAS software to a fourth Unix computer.

Of course, Unix flexibility comes unexpected since its flexibility to a great extend defined internet, a virtual Unix world until 1992. Even TCP/IP protocol, long used in the Unix world, was eventually adopted by all other operating systems.

As more countries see alternatives to buying U.S. software, they turn primarily to Linux. To the extent this happens, NASS work in foreign countries will look less viable if not obsolete. For a decade, the programming done by NASS for foreign countries on-site could easily have been done remotely unix-to-unix. Today, Linux can upgrade its own operating system over phone lines daily and automatically. The international organization Food for the Hungry ``firmly believes that Linux is an important asset for the developing world and can hasten the wiring of Africa.''

*What about Software?
Linux has at least eight hundred pieces of packaged software whose installation amounts to typing ``install package.'' Many non-unix agencies purchase software which comes standard in Linux/Unix; eg, Reachout and html editors. Much other software is easily programmed in Linux/Unix; eg, automatic tape backup to off-site computers. Linux comes with vast amounts of software, including an sql server, Apache which runs 45% of the world's web servers, TeX the typesetting system used by Springer-Verlag, SIAM, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and is the de facto standard in Unix. Linux provided channel bonding for three years before USR Robotics took up the idea. Linux includes a couple mail delivery-agents including the quintessential ``sendmail,'' eight mail readers, full client/server and peer-to-peer networking, a dozen text editors, ....

Word Perfect die hards can purchase a Linux version through Caldera. Netscape runs as an easily installed single binary file downloaded from a web site.

The president of SAS stated that Unix is the platform of the future and develops its software on Unix first. Mathematica does their development on Linux. W3, the standards body for web protocol; with Tim Berners-Lee who originated the world wide web with the protocols http, html and www; comprised of MIT, Keio University, and Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA), with support from CERN and DARPA; often makes prototype web products like the Amaya web editor/viewer with new protocols available first in Linux.

Each operating system has software that other operating systems do not have. Linux/Unix is no exception. For example, one can almost perfectly synthesize speech on any Unix computer, reading text through speakers with choice of language and English, Welch, Spanish, ...accent. Linux generates random numbers for users and for security at a rate following measures of ergodicity in the computer's devices. As an open systems solution, NASS should consider not making everyone use the same computer, but letting every employee interactively log into, or run remote executables on, hosts which can execute appropriate software, whether Unix software or Microsoft software. A couple multi-processor DEC computers running NT need be the only computers running Microsoft Windows software. Or, rather than hosting other operating systems, use an interpretive scripting language whose code works on any computer; eg, Perl software, Python, or Corel's Office for Java. Then each employee could run zher preferred operating system on zher desk for most of zher work.

Similarly, if one's computer lacks SAS, Sun hosts can run all SAS programs. In a proper windowing environment today, programs which interactively execute on a remote computer look no different from those which execute locally. So NASS could provide necessary software services on a variety of core computers, letting its employees choose more what resides on their own desktop computer. Carried to one extreme, results from core computers could display on employees computers which need only display X-windows or need only display Java.

*Is Linux Easy to Use?
Since every Unix computer has all the major software components, people have complained about a demanding Unix since the late 1980's. But these people were those who used 2 Megabytes of memory while Unix demanded 8 Megabytes of memory, who had no networking while Unix had networking, who had a succinct command line interface while Unix had a command line interface that users preferred over any windowing system, who had no windowing system while Unix had windows, who had one windows desktop system while Unix had 36 virtual windows desktop systems.

However, Unix has its difficulties. The real difficulty in every agency has been getting computer administrators configure the agency's Unix computers for ease-of-use and later sharing that ease with computer users. Installing an easy-to-use front end and easy-to-use tools has been greatly simplified in Linux. To install an easy-to-use tool in Linux, you need not reinstall the whole operating system or even consider how your operating system was installed. The easy-to-use tools have been placed in single files called packages that easily install through a Linux packaging system. The packaging system has several front ends to suit individual preferences. For the impatient, one graphical front end will install everything. That graphical front end will keep out packages incompatible with your preferences, and when your package depends on other packages, the package system will automatically install the dependencies. While you can install by CD, you can also install by SMB, by plip, over internet by automated ftp, or, as we usually do, over a local network by nfs. Even after installing a package, the packaging system can locate documentation included with that package, can reconfigure that package, and can verify the package's source through a double key encryption check.

Having had easy-to-use windowing since 1985, most of the major computer manufacturers -- IBM, Sun, HP, Dec -- now provide Unix with the windows standard: the Common Desktop Interface with Motif and X-windows. Linux can also use the Common Desktop Environment and Linux includes Sun's Openwindows system. Linux also offers two windowing systems almost identical to Microsoft Windows 95, three almost identical to NextStep, and one like the Mac operating system. But most linux users pick the windowing system Fvwm with X-windows. This typically contains thirty-six virtual desktops, each acting like a 21 inch virtual monitor. Using this super-windows system, one often puts administrative GUI's on one desktop; and a SAS program, log and output window on a set of three more desktops. Such virtual windows systems hold many more windows than other windows systems and hold them in an uncluttered fashion. To hop onto another computer without needing to login and with the remote computer's memory and processor doing the X-window's work, one need merely enter ``xon remote-computer-name''.

Unix has both a windowing system and a quintessential command line interface. All windowing systems are but thin veneers that allow the programming-ignorant to productively use computers. Every operating system has a windowing system and every enterprise system needs a flexible, powerful command line. I frequently give files 30-character names and occasionally 50-character names, which ease understanding the files' contents and yet these names start with a couple characters easily completed with a ``tab'' key. When one changes directory, zhe need neither open a directory/filename window nor type the directory's full name, but need only shuffle the directory history with ``pushd.'' When one executes a time-consuming command, on Linux/Unix zhe runs it in the background with ``bg'', freeing the current window, or toggles it to the foreground with ``fg''. One can refer to a command-line used weeks earlier through a searchable history of the previous 1000 command-line entries. One can find a needed command or tool by entering, for example, ``apropos print'' which lists any command related to printing, while the database command ``locate agdat'' locates any file like agdat36.ssd01 on any of three computers within a second. Some Unix/Linux administrators expand ease-of-use since they allow removed files to be un-removed for two days, yet they allow small files under 100,000 bytes like SAS programs to be un-removed for two weeks. The number of Unix tools one considers easy to use expands as one becomes more computer adept and consequently computer literate.

Those wanting a user friendly text editor would probably choose a Motif based editor like nedit from the Common Desktop Interface. Those wanting un-arguably the world's most powerful text editor would choose one of the emacs derivatives, emacs or xemacs. Computer administrators should offer a breadth of editors like those Unix offers, since the powerful or easy or familiar editor often underlies a user's productivity. As a statistical agency dealing with variances, NASS understands the importance of such variety rather than uniformity. So NASS should seek low variance in its understanding and in its estimates but high variance in its tools and in its skills.

*But Linux is Free.
Since they produce much of the excellent software now appearing in Unix/Linux, the European countries do not expect commercial software to outperform free often publicly funded software. They find it curious that America believes inbred groups speaking one language, located in one city, produce better software than international teams residing on five continents and working at major institutes. The Debian Linux group itself has 210 maintainers, including Wichert Akkerman and Erick Branderhorst of Netherlands, Lars Wirzenius and Riku Voipio of Finland, Goran Andersson and Hakan Ardo of Sweden, Jan Cmenisch and David Frey of Switzerland, Helmut Geyer and Roman Hodek of Germany, Yves Arrouye and Christophe Le Bars of France, Luca Maranzano of Italy, Boris Beletsky and Vadim Vygonets of Israel, Patrick Weemeeuw of Belgium, Malc Arnold and Alan Bain of UK, Sue Campbell and Dirk Eddelbuettel of Canada, Laurence Chim and Karl Ferguson of Australia, Billy Chow of Hong Kong, Nicolas Lichtmaier of Argentina, Martin Soto of Columbia, Emilio Lopes of Brazil, Satiago Vila and Enrique Zanardi of Spain, Gergely Madarasz of Hungary, Milan Zamazal of Czech Republic, and Yoshiaki Ynagihara of Japan. The German's themselves now have three separate Linux distributions, DLD, LST and SuSE, each following the Linux filesystem standard. A ranking of current Linux contributions per capita by country might be Netherlands, Finland, Germany, UK, US, Sweden, Australia, France. In the last few months, I notice many contributions from Japan and Brazil.

The developers of the Linux kernel itself encircle the globe, representing the largest ever operating system team. They gain efficiencies by working 24 hours a day: as the European team retires, the American team works on the German results; as the American team retires, the Australian team works on the American results. These countries come to agreement on much software, resulting in more robust and widely usable software. They fund software development through their great institutes. For example, the SQL server software sanctioned by MIT was funded by the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Foundation for Basic Research, and the Free Software Foundation. For example, the often obscure ``tcsh'' shell has contributions from Max Planck Institute, Keio University in Japan, LTH in Sweden, U. of Australia at Sydney, Mullard Space Lab in UK, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute, Cornell, Rutgers, Cray Computer Corp, IBM, Apple, Sanyo, Dec, Intel, Motorola, .... Many public institutes now copyright for public use the software they produce, so their public expenditures do not amount to funding a future corporation like SAS, S-Plus, Macsyma, Maple, ....

The same argument that defiles Linux for its public funding could be used against any government agency, including the Department of Agriculture. NASS could not produce good statistics because those statistics are free. Viewed so, government agencies should be the first to consider operating systems such as Linux, BSD, HURD. Government agencies dirtied themselves enough by not connecting to internet until 1995, ten years after they could have used the same resource college students at every major university used, 25 years after the government agency of the military invented it. Government agencies should not postpone using products until K-Mart sells them.

Concerning public software, Donald Becker at NASA, who writes many of the video drivers for Linux, says he has seen some awkward commercial code written in a hurry to get it out the door. NASA itself recently used Debian Linux on a space shuttle mission to control a fuel-cell experiment.

While the press generally misses un-advertised Linux, here are some press comments.

``Linux blew the top off the other operating systems in three categories: development tools/utilities, ease of use and price.'' DataPro Survey

``It's powerful, it's open, it's free. That's why this Unix is entering Corporate IS. Cost is one of the last things people mention when talking about Linux's benefits. Reliability is one of the first.'' Byte Magazine

``Exceptional choice for corporate intranets.'' -- best product of the year, PC Week Online

``Last year we were unimpressed with the crop of OS offerings and didn't bother to bestow a Product of the Year award in this category; this year we present two. One of them goes to Red Hat Linux 4.0. Linux has traditionally enjoyed a great deal of popularity outside of the corporate environment. But as establishing an Internet presence becomes significant for businesses, Linux -- already embraced by several Internet service providers -- becomes a natural choice. Red Hat brings together a winning combination of software such as the Metro/X windows accelerator, a multiprocessor-ready kernel, true plug-and-play autodetection, and the best features one might expect from this implementation of Unix. Red Hat also includes its own desktop windows with a Windows 95 look and feel. A growing list of software vendors provide applications for Linux, and standard Unix accessories, such as a compiler and GNU emacs, a popular GUI text editor, are in there, as well as HTTP, FTP, and Telnet daemons. For those who like to peek under the OS hood, Red Hat also includes a complete source-code library.'' InfoWorld, October 14, 1996

*Give Linux and BSD Unix some Consideration.
Look at Linux on the World Wide Web for its breadth of operating system support, including at the bottom a sampling of foreign Linux support sites. Look at Linux Applications to see a table of the breadth of included Linux software. The Linux community tracks security problems-solutions at sites like Linux Security Alerts, Debian GNU/Linux Security Reckoning, and Linux Security Alerts. Look at the indexed Debian Linux bug logs to see one of Linux's bug tracking systems. Look at the Linux HOWTO Index for 167 howto documents, a small view of much wider documentation. For corporate computing with Linux, see Linux Enterprise Computing. More broadly, the Linux Documentation Project has produced several books, each simultaneously available online and in bookstores under multiple publishers' covers.

Try a mock U.S. state office run on Linux serving Microsoft Windows and serving NT software, with NT hosting via X-windows, or using interpretive scripts like Perl and Java.

You ask ``whether NASS should adopt a 32-bit client (workstation) operating system as soon as possible,'' but I later infer that NASS will only consider Microsoft products for this switch. When you mention that ``clients'' will become 32-bit, I infer that NASS will continue a client/server arrangement, rather than the peer-to-peer arrangement or the multi-user arrangement that Unixes have had for 26 years. Microsoft's goals of simplicity rather than propriety does not dupe good computer administrators. For example, Microsoft identifies drives by a, b, c ...rather than the tree structure of major operating systems like Dec Vax and Unix. While drive identifiers like a, b, c work fine at home, they expand to a morass like a-z in NASS. So, for example, every time I have used my backup software in NASS, I have had to modify it because commands like ``rexec'' have moved from one drive letter to another. I long for something like the Linux File Standard that all fourteen Linux distributions follow.

Since NASS is not a mom-and-pop operation, it should at least consider what other major statistical agencies use and should consider giving users power, rather than giving the computer administrators comfort with administration at home similar to administration at work. Stat Canada uses Unix and mainframe computing almost solely. Since all computer manufacturers (IBM, Dec, HP, Apple, Sun, Fujitsu) have chosen to embellish and offer Unix on their hardware, one would think Unix should be given consideration. Since every modern operating system offers a windowing system that beginning users can easily navigate and that beginning users see little difference between, we can choose an operating system based on its power and its flexibility. We should perhaps not ask ``whether NASS should adopt a 32-bit client (workstation) operating system as soon as possible,'' but what should NASS use in 8 years.

Even if other operating systems did some computer tasks better, I would recommend Linux/Unix for many reasons like its flexibility and consequent power. Since Linux/Unix outdoes other operating systems in virtually every computer quality wanted, including user friendliness, we should seriously consider a Linux/Unix 32-bit/64-bit peer-to-peer multi-user operating system on the PC.

Jameson Burt
Wed Jun 4 02:09:02 EDT 1997